Making your list
Kelly is a young woman looking for her first car. She intends to drive from home to the station, down to the local shops and run around with friends at weekends. Her budget is around $10,000 but she’s not sure where to start.
First of all, she should be looking for a small car that’s easy to park as well as drive, economical to run, and she must feel confident driving in city traffic. Two-door models look sharp but getting in and out of the back can be awkward, so a five-door hatch or four-door sedan is often a smarter choice.
In many models, there are a few engine options – say a 1.2-litre and a 1.6-litre. The larger engine is nearly always better because, although smaller-engined cars tend to be cheaper, they have to work harder, performance is barely adequate and there’s virtually no difference in fuel economy.
Extra safety gear and features make mid-spec and high-end versions the ones to look for. Colour is important to Kelly, so popular brands will give her greater choice.
In the light car class, $10,000 will generally buy a 2009-2013 model. There are a wide range of makes and models available, so she should start with those that have solid reputations for reliability. This means the likes of Honda Jazz, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Getz.
The testing process
Kelly should test-drive a variety before making her decision, taking them for a good run and replicating the conditions in which she intends to use the car. If it’s city commuting, she should make sure there’s plenty of stop/start work in her test, and include freeway driving to see how it performs and handles at higher speeds.
She should make sure the car steers straight, that acceleration and gear changes are smooth (in both manual and automatic cars) and listen for abnormal noises. After the drive, she should look for signs of oil or cooling-system leaks.
Service history is always important and in budget-focused cars servicing is sometimes neglected. While it doesn’t guarantee reliability, a buyer’s chances are better if the car has been well maintained. Most cars this age will have some repairs, but check it has not been in a major crash and been poorly repaired.
Once Kelly finds the small car she likes, a professional check such as an RACV vehicle inspection will provide in-depth information on its condition. If buying privately (i.e. not from a licensed trader), a Personal Property Securities Register check is also money well spent, as it provides vital information such as whether the car has been a repairable write-off, is stolen or has finance owing (visit PPSR.com.au).
Also check the Product Safety Australia website to see if the model is listed for airbag recall (search for Takata Airbag Recalls). If it is, check with a dealer to make sure a replacement airbag has been fitted.
Honda Jazz rules supreme for cabin versatility and space efficiency, with its high roof and clever folding rear seat. In automatic models, check for transmission shuddering, which in some cases (but not necessarily all) can be rectified by changing the transmission oil to the one specified by Honda.